Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Stuart Page: Shustak
MIC Toi Rerehiko
11 July -15 August 2008

Larence Shustak was a photography lecturer at Ilam art school while I was a painting student there in the early seventies, and much loved by many of my friends. He came to Christchurch after working in the sixties for Life magazine, doing important documentary projects such as for the New York Jazz label Riverside Records (see the one of Monk above), and making a handful of short documentary films. Much of his work deals with the gritty realities of life in East (Greenwich) Village and engages with communities like handicapped children, or the black Jews of Harlem.

Shustak was a gregarious, big-hearted American who liked to talk about art (a category in which EVERYTHING was included), make images, play his banjo and smoke grass. My impression though was he had toked on one ‘j’ too many and lost a lot of brain cells. A lovely warm man, but hardly what I would call ‘wise’. I imagine others (like Stuart Page who here presents samples from his documentary on Shustak and a curated selection of Shustak’s photographs and short films) will vehemently disagree.

Page’s trailer for his film is extremely informative, but only about 20 minutes long. It is a shame MIC just don’t have continuous screenings of the full 90 minute doco. (After all some of the German videos recently shown at St Paul St were almost that long and people came and went at will.)

I met Shustak several times, know many of the people in the film and am more than a little puzzled. It would be good to get a fuller grasp of what he was on about as a teacher. Many of his black and white photographs were very eclectic – Brandt, Brassai especially – but his jazz portraits are wonderful. Shustak is obviously very highly rated by his peers in the States, and seeing a proper full length documentary would hopefully reveal a great deal. In the meantime there is an excellent (albeit a little worshipful) essay by James Robertson in the free takeaway poster/catalogue.


Stuart Page said...

In fact he didn't do the jazz stuff for Life magazine, they were back record cover pics for Riverside.

The SHUSTAK doco is entered in the DocNZ festival (Feb 2009) for which they require at least a NZ premiere. The reasons for not showing the doco have nothing to do with the MIC. In fact I was the curator of all of the material. (FYI NZIFF declined the film for the current festival).

The 20 min trailer/EPK is intended to introduce Stuart Page, his work, and a bit about his connection with Shustak. There are a few snippets from the SHUSTAK doco included as well.

Let's see if the film gets accepted by DocNZ, and meantime "hold your patience!" ;-)

Stuart Page said...

Oh and even though I'm very flattered, can you change the keyword from STUSTAK to SHUSTAK ? Heh heh...!!!

John Hurrell said...

Thanks Stuart for pointing out the keyword typo.Have corrected. I listed the Life work as separate from the Riverside project, but maybe it reads a little strangely.I appreciate your further, very helpful, comments about your film.

John Hurrell said...

It is confusing because the promotion is for the film, but it never is screened in its entirity.

Sorry about those other typos.

Stuart Page said...

Yeah I realised too late that it was a bit confusing, I guess I just thought that because NZIFF knew that the film would be screening parallel to the MIC SHUSTAK show, that it would "get in behind it" but there was a lot of other artist docos of more famous people or whatever and SHUSTAK didn't make the cut. Bit of a risk, but now it's a 6 month "teaser" till hopefully it screens in DocNZ, which tours the main centres too.

The original film for which I applied for funding from Creative NZ SIPF was going to be just interviews with SHUSTAK and his work and music. I started to do the interviews which was very difficult, he wasn't too keen, and he wasn't very well. I did two interviews in Sept 2002 and Jan 2003, he died in May 2003. At that point some of his friends in NYC demanded to be involved and before I knew it I'd interviewed all of his best buddies, and his four children and two ex-wives etc. At this point the film had expanded and at first cut was 5 hrs duration. It took quite some time and brutal dismemberment of whole aspects of his life such as geodesic domes, politics, and other subjects, and I got it down to 2.25 hours. Further hacking and culling of certain interviewees got it down eventually to 92 mins, it's current duration.

I entered it into MIFF (Melbourne) and NZIFF (NZ) both of whom rejected it. It was and still is a "work in progress" - in that it is "cut" but hasn't had a "colour grade" or an "audio mix" - two processes that can cost upwards of $24,000 for a 90+ min film. If the doco is accepted by one of a number of major film festivals (incl. NZIFF & MIFF) it would qualify for NZ Film Commission "Post Production Funding" - this would take care of the "grade & mix."

So you can see that it's not the $16,000+GST budget that I started with, it has now cost approx $45,000 (i.e. $30,000 of my own money not including time) and it's still not "graded & mixed." So I appreciate that people are keen to see it, but there is a lot of work and politics and maneuvering required to complete a film about a relatively unknown and occasionally disrespected person.

John Hurrell said...

Thanks for such a thoroughly detailed account.The folded-up catalogue is very good.Who is the writer James Robertson,and did he know Larence?

Stuart Page said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stuart Page said...

James Robertson is a primary school teacher, curator and artist. He curated a show at Canary Gallery in 2005 called PAPERWORK and it included Sam Mitchell, Gavin Hurley, Megan Hansen-Knarhoi, Trust Me, as well as James and myself.

James wrote a 580 word blurb about the 24 photos I had in that show, and I thought his text was very good, referencing writers that are not often considered such as Debord, Baudrillard and Jencks, and discussing concepts that showed a wide and learned understanding of art & media.

I asked him to write for my EAST:WEST film installation at Anna Bibby Gallery in 2006 and was again very pleased with his insightful writing.

It was no-brainer when MIC asked if I knew of someone to write for the SHUSTAK poster.

No James didn't know LNS personally, I met James in 2004 or 2005, after the passing of LNS in 2003. But he has seen more than one version of the SHUSTAK doco over the last year or so, as well as a lot of the associated photographic material that I used, and has borrowed Bucky Fuller and Marshall McLuhan books from me, as well as other material.

John Hurrell said...

I didn't know about your EAST:WEST film installation at Anna Bibby's. Sounds interesting. What was that about?

Stuart Page said...

“Was the bombing of the World Trade Centre - in relation to Hollywood disaster movies - not unlike snuff pornography versus sadomasochistic porn?”
–Slavoj Zizek

Stuart Page’s video installation EAST:WEST, comprises three experimental pieces: WARPORNUSA (2004); Code Orange in the Big Apple (2005); Otaku Octopus (2006). They involve deteriorated and deterritorialized images. That is, images on the brink of disintegrating, either in the frames themselves or their actual often unstable subject matter, images that are taken from a specific context, re-inscribed and re-coded.

The magnetism of the video images is that they attract and repulse, pulling and pushing the viewer like the television sets in Cronenberg’s Videodrome. Page’s triptych of monitors is equally seductive and terrifying. They show saturation both of psychedelic colour and mass media’s proliferation of visual information, the results of an America coming down after a bad acid trip. Page emphasises this hang-over from the sixties, with a sweetened toxicity, a culture of excess, ‘artificially coloured’, inverting flavours, faces, bodies, borders and boundaries. Test patterns and bands of process colours extend beyond the flickering screen and onto the project space walls.

I would liken Page’s style to that of filmic decollage, think of Rotella with a handi-cam, a post-modern, ‘post-medium’ Vertov of surfaces. A cinematic stencilling is utilized; cut-aways and cut throughs of still digital photography and sequences. This is street inspired layering which allows pictures to peel away from one another and imprint, superimposed and dissolved to hypnotic effect always with an eye on unsolicited lines, chance forms and hidden, almost subliminal meanings.

There is the beautiful interplay between Code Orange and WARPORN in their ‘appropriation’ and ‘scratching’ of the found or ready-made image. Code Orange operates in a straight but not uncomplicated documentary mode, a visual travel diary of city streets, the artist as punk flaneur and tourist. Whereas WARPORN acquires its material via internet sites, Page ‘hijacks’ his raw data if you will. Differences are explored between amateur and auteur, surveyed citizen and voyeur.

By editing and re-presenting this material Page comments on the encroachment of a genuine public space by corporate hegemony yet celebrates, adds and makes room for resistance. His international coverage declares a diverse yet shared visual language of urgency and protest within the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements. It is a major irony that video and internet technology were both born of U.S military interest and investment. It is the job of the artist to take such technologies and free them of imperial and corporate ends, allowing new forms, an alternative politics and room to question, challenge and reflect. As a spectator leaving EAST:WEST one will take the retinal after-burn and hallucinatory power of the image with them and be asked to re-orient oneself, in new directions.

-James Robertson, Auckland 2006.

Stuart Page said...

The "SHUSTAK" feature doco is "in competition" at the DocNZ International Documentary Festival of New Zealand 2009. The festival opens in Auckland from Feb 26. Screening dates for films are yet to be announced. Keep an eye on local papers or check here

An HQ trailer for the film is now online at YouTube and also on the SHUSTAK MOVIE website here together with a poster, essay and other links and downloads.

SHUSTAK is a contender for "Best NZ documentary" and Stuart Page is up for "Best Emerging Director".

Stuart Page said...

The big winner of the night was New Zealand director Stuart Page, who picked up the prize for Best New Zealand Feature to go along with the Staples Rodway Best Emerging New Zealand Filmmaker award for his documentary Shustak. The film is exploration of the legacy of enigmatic radical Lawrence Shustak, a popculture philosopher who left New York in the 1970s and later set up the photography department at the University of Canterbury. Page is probably bestknown for directing the infamous 1987 AFFCO music video for the Skeptics.

John Hurrell said...

Screenings of Stuart's film are at the Rialto, Newmarket.
Mon 2 March, 8 pm.
Wed 4 March, 12.30 pm
Fri 6 March, 11 am.

shustak said...

"Shustak" takes Best New Zealand Feature. Congratulations Stuart.

Check out the official Shustak web presence.